Honest and heart-breaking, Rosanne Cash’s ‘Interiors’ remains a powerful record of unravelling love.
1990 was a tumultuous time of change for Rosanne Cash and this is reflected by the deeply personal ‘Interiors’, one of her finest albums. Her previous release, ‘King’s Record Shop’, had been a huge success. However, giving birth, a new artistic direction inspired by developing a love for expression through painting and the unravelling of her marriage to country star Rodney Crowell, led to a very different collection of songs. Although ‘Interiors’ was less commercially successful at the time, the depth of its humanity and the coherence of its themes across the songs mean that the album is a real piece of art that has remained incredibly moving and continues to reward those who listen sensitively.
There were many differences in the way ‘Interiors’ was approached. For the first time, on her seventh album, Cash wrote or co-wrote all the songs. She also took on production duties, taking greater responsibility for ensuring that she sounds she heard in her head made it onto the record. Part of that stylistic change was making the record mostly acoustic and a move away from the use of a full drum kit for many of the songs. As a result, the songs sound more intimate than Cash’s previous work, matching the record’s lyrical content.
Cash was joined by a host of fabulous players, including Jerry Douglas on slide and Dobro and Steuart Smith, who assisted with arrangements as well as providing acoustic and electric guitar. Cash’s then-husband Crowell appears as a guest vocalist while her future husband John Leventhal also delivers guitars, in an interesting confluence of Cash’s past and future lives. Everything was recorded on an old analogue recording console, a conscious decision as she pursued a more stripped-back sound. In her memoir ‘Composed’, Cash says: “I was in my element; I loved making this record as I had no other. The entire process was the antithesis of the ‘Rhythm and Romance’ experience – civilised, measured, easy, and so musical…I took the finished record back to Nashville, totally proud of what I had accomplished.” Sadly, the Nashville division of Columbia records was looking for something more radio-friendly. Consequently, it wasn’t supported by the label and didn’t achieve chart success like its predecessor. Shortly afterwards, Cash left the Nashville division after twelve years, transferring to New York. But success can be measured in different ways. There may not have been chart hits but ‘Interiors’ was beautifully crafted and recorded and, all these years later, continues to be a captivating record of this crossroads, this moment in her life. ‘Interiors’ possesses a rare depth of sensitivity, and Cash’s words are still direct, stark and incredibly emotive.
With contrasting song titles like ‘On the Inside’ and ‘On the Surface’, it’s clear that the record tackles the conflict between the appearances we all present to the world and the reality, our interior. This is true for ourselves as individuals and for our relationships: “For the world outside our door, // Our smiles are oh so bright // On the surface, everything’s alright.” In the age of social media, such ideas – the gap between how we’d like to be seen and how we really are – have never been more relevant.
In hindsight, the songs largely related to the impending end of Cash’s marriage and they must have been emerging from deep within her, speaking of a future yet to happen and that she was barely aware of at the time of writing. Although incredibly personal and introspective, the themes are actually universal and anyone who has experienced heartbreak will find that Rosanne Cash wrote these songs for you. The thoughts and feelings she captures in her language have a breath-taking impact. As ever, her vocal performance, alongside the quality of the writing and arrangements, is what makes this a classic. Throughout the album, Cash’s voice is so rich, steeped in experience and character, conveying so much in just her tone, her cadence, the rise and fall of her melodic delivery; it’s open-hearted, honest and authentic.
The quality is consistent across the record but the opening three tracks are as good as it gets: ‘On the Inside’, ‘Dance with the Tiger’ and ‘On the Surface’. And then, ‘Paralized’ in its bleak simplicity, just Cash’s impassioned vocal over piano, reveals how hard it can be to move on, to start over, when we are emotionally damaged: “I can’t move, I can’t stand // Our faces in pieces, facades on the floor // The pretence between us, for a moment destroyed.” But, just when all seems dark, Cash offers us a glimmer of hope: “One day soon, I’ll just let it go…We’ll meet in the distance, new numbers, new names // I’ve lifted the veil, I’ve walked through the fire // I’ll move on, I’ll go higher.” That possibility of something better gives the strength to carry on and ensures the album has the balance needed to keep us returning for more. As long as we love and hope, we’re vulnerable to the emotions that play out across the record and sensitive to its messages. The album is a classic because of the way the songs connect, the consistency of purpose and theme, as well as the quality of the musicianship and writing. She sounds weary, disenchanted, resigned. But it’s real and human and, above all, it’s beautiful. Sit back, close your eyes and listen.